Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Life as Blind Journalist in Afghanistan

Successful news editor and presenter overcame disability, prejudice and low expectations.
By Abdul Latif Sahak
  • Sayed Mohammad Yazdan Parast is a successful presenter and news editor with Radio Nehad, Mazar-e Sharif.
    Sayed Mohammad Yazdan Parast is a successful presenter and news editor with Radio Nehad, Mazar-e Sharif.

Thirteen-year-old Sayed Mohammad Yazdan Parast was sitting in his usual seat in the back row of the classroom, watching his teacher draw a geometrical circle on the blackboard. All of a sudden, the central dot of the circle disappeared. He thought that perhaps there was something wrong with the chalk. 

The next day, the Afghan schoolboy sat one row closer to the blackboard. Over the next eight days he gradually moved forward row by row, until he was sitting right at the front. But by this time he could no longer see the blackboard, let alone anything drawn on it.

"I finally realised that it wasn’t the blackboard or the chalk that had lost their clarity; it was my eyes that had lost their vision," he told IWPR.

Despite three trips to Iran to seek medical help, the young boy became completely blind.

"The worst memory of my life is the day I heard the doctor telling my father that my vision could not be restored," he recalled.

But ten years on, Yazdan Parast has overcome blindness to become a success.

A well-known journalist in a country where there is little provision for the disabled, he now heads the news section of Radio Nehad in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

He reads the news by heart and presents a number of shows. He also represents the journalists of northern Afghanistan at national conferences, and participated in the peace “jirga” or assembly last month as a representative of disabled people.

"If I appointed a sighted person instead of Yazdan Parast as head of news at Radio Nehad, I would not feel so at ease,” said Najibollah Paikan, editor-in-chief and owner of Radio Nehad. “I feel calm now because Yazdan Parast is here."

Paikan added that not only was Yazdan Parast a good journalist, presenter and manager, he was also exceptionally well-informed about politics and history.

Yazdan Parast’s career chances were turned around in 1999, when he heard on the radio that the International Organisation for Migration was assisting blind people in Mazar-e Sharif.

“I paid my first visit and started learning Braille script. Finding the institution was the start of the solution to the problems in my life," he said.

After four months studying Braille, he went back to school, and is still studying there part-time. Once he graduates, he wants to go on to study law.

Yazdan Parast still faces a daily struggle against prejudice among the general public. He says people call him names when he walks around the city.

"I ask those who say people like me are blind to cover their eyes one day and then walk through the city. Then they will realise what this is about," he said.

The abusive treatment he received was one of his main motivations for becoming a journalist.

"I wanted to bring my voice, which only my family had heard so far, to the government, the people and society to make them aware of the pain that disabled people feel," he said.

When it comes to looking for a wife, Yazdan Parast accepts that his choice cannot be based on looks.

"I cannot see beauties anymore. The only thing I want is for my wife to understand me, to be literate and to have good morals," he said.

His father Sayed Mahmud Shah, a pharmacist at a Mazar-e Sharif hospital, said that when his son lost his sight, he feared he faced a bleak future like other blind people in Afghanistan.

"I thought my son would be a burden on his family, but today, the family is a burden for him, because he helps me with the household expenses,” he said. “He’s the pride of our family and our relatives. I never think of my son as disabled. My son is a completely healthy young man."

When asked about his best and worst memories, Yazdan Parast said, "My worst memory is what the doctor said about my eyes, how they could not be cured. I was very disappointed that I would not see the blackboard, my classmates, parents, sisters and brothers any more.

“My best memory begins the day I sat at the microphone of Radio Nehad, because until then, everyone thought I was incapable of anything. But I showed them that I could work just like them."

Abdol Latif Sahak is an IWPR reporter in Balkh, northern Afghanistan.

More IWPR's Global Voices

Why Did Cuba Jail This Journalist?
Rights defenders say that unusually harsh punishment reflects wider troubles for Havana regime.
Under A Watchful Eye: Cyber Surveillance in Cuba
Cuba's Less Than Beautiful Game